"Princess Caraboo", a true story set in 1817 about a woman whose language no one seems to understand but who appears to be descended from royalty, tries to strike the middle ground between what adults and what kids should like. It's got a slightly daft, British sense of humor to appeal to the older set and yet the film plays like an extended bedtime story. In this respect, the film achieves tangible success.
Looking lost and forlorn, a woman (Phoebe Cates) wearing a turban stumbles out a crop field one day as two men in a carriage are passing by. They give her a lift into town despite the fact that they are baffled as to how to communicate with her. She ends up before judge, being tried as a vagrant. Despite the language barrier she is able to convey that her name is Caraboo and it is inferred, because of gestures and other attempts at speech, that her father is a king. Mr. and Mrs. Worrall (Jim Broadbent, Wendy Hughes), a wealthy, aristocratic couple, take pity on Caraboo and allow her to dwell in one of the rooms of their stately mansion.
No one knows quite what to make of "princess" Caraboo. It seems odd that no one has the faintest idea what language she is speaking. The Worralls' greek butler Frixos (Kevin Kline) attempts several with her without a satisfactory response. Professor Wilkinson (John Lithgow), a specialist in linguistics, tries his hand at discovering her language but to no avail. He does, however, become completely enchanted with Caraboo as do any and all who meet her, including the Prince Regent (John Sessions). Wilkinson also manages to narrow down Caraboo's origin to a group of islands in the far east.
The question of whether or not she is a fraud is the driving force of the film. A journalist by the name of Gutch (Stephen Rea) is the only one left doubting her authenticity before too long. His most prominent clue is a book that Caraboo was carrying when she was first discovered. Because it is potentially damaging, he has kept this vital piece of evidence to himself and sets about researching its origins before making any claims.
Phoebe Cates is winning and absolutely radiant in her role as the enigmatic princess. Although she shares little screen time with husband Kevin Kline, they seem to play off of each other quite well with Kline giving a fine, quirky performance.
The film's storyline seems better suited to play out in an hour or so, instead of the generous running time of a feature. Still, "Princess Caraboo" does succeed in effortlessly bridging the generation gap, a feat managed by scare few non-Disney films. The story, however slight, should appeal to a wide range of age groups and should prove modestly entertaining to each of them.